Sacrifice and the Divine Liturgy

So, in my previous post I mentioned that sacrifices were still being offered in worship. Almost all Christians would agree on that, as talk of the “sacrifice of praise” abounds in many Evangelical/Charismatic circles. But the Orthodox (and the Roman Catholics) view that sacrifice as involving much more. First, we do say that we have an altar. We received that from Holy Tradition. In the Book of Hebrews 13:10 it says:

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Even fully in context, it is clear that part of the argument in this section of Hebrews is not that the altar has been done away with, but that the altar has been transformed. In fact, it goes on to say that through Jesus we offer up sacrifices at that altar:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

And here we have two of the sacrifices that we offer at the Divine Liturgy, one that is often cited by Evangelicals/Charismatics, and one that is never cited by Protestants. The first sacrifice mentioned, the sacrifice of praise, is one that has been the subject of many a Protestant sermon. The sermon usually goes along the lines of this verse and the Letter to the Philippians, where Saint Paul says that we are to rejoice in all things. And the sermon, rightfully, goes on to tell us that we need to come to worship ready to praise God in even the worst of circumstances. I will say that there is much more to the sacrifice of praise than just praising God in the tough times. But, that is not my point at this time.

You see, the second sacrifice in that verse is the one that I have never heard mentioned in a Protestant sermon, and that is because the theology of the Reformation framed the issue of good works in such a manner that it essentially invalidated these, and various other, verses of Scripture and teaching of Holy Tradition. It is the “do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices …” The first part of the verse is interpreted by Protestants as something that should happen all the time, but that reaches its high point in the worship. That is, we should continually praise God, but this praise finds its ultimate expression when the community joins in worship to offer up its praise to God despite the fact that we live in a fallen and damaged world. The community praising together is an outpost of the Kingdom of God which recognizes in its praise the ultimate goodness of our God. So, the second part of the verse, which also talks about sacrifice should be interpreted the same way, right?

Sadly, for Protestants it is not. Yet the second part of the verse is a continuation of the phrase, “let us continually offer to God…” In the Divine Liturgy, we also offer up our good works to God. That is why in the Divine Liturgy there are a couple of prayers, during the Anaphora, which specifically as God to remember those who help the poor and the needy. We come to God offering the good works of the community and specifically ask him to remember those who “do good and … share with others, for which such sacrifices God is pleased.” All too many Protestants change the verse in midstream to change the meaning of sacrifice. In the first part of the verse, the sacrifice of praise is interpreted as being a worship oriented sacrifice, even when it takes place at home or at work. But, in the second part of the verse, the meaning is suddenly changed to a secular meaning. That is, the doing good and sharing sacrifice is interpreted to mean sacrificing your time and resources, but it does not mean that this is part of your worship of God, which you bring to the Sunday Liturgy. But, in context, the author of Hebrews is saying that both praise and good works are acceptable to bring to offer at the altar that we have.

Yes, we Orthodox offer our good works as an acceptable sacrifice to God during the Divine Liturgy. It does not good to argue that our good works is as filthy rags, for two reasons. One, we are not using those good works to get saved. But, two, and much more important, this verse in Hebrews tells us to do so. Whatever interpretation of good works a Christian cares to have, it may not be one that invalidates this whole argument in Hebrews, and in various other of the epistles. If you cannot bring your good works as an offering to God in worship, then you have a bad conception of what good works are. According to Hebrews, whatever definition of good works you have in your mind, it must be one that allows you to bring both praise and good works as offerings to God during worship.

Yet, there are more sacrifices that we bring to God in worship.

===MORE TO COME===

Comments

  1. Art Casci says

    Fr. Ernesto,

    A practical question comes to mind. How do you bring good works to the service. Surely you do not mean literally your bring in people that you shared with during the week. Exactly how is this done other than say you did the good works?

    Also, the Lutheran church does not invalidate the verses you point to. Luther was very adamant that good works necessarily follow faith or there is no true faith and Luther taught that good works are a kind of witness to the conscience that in fact there is faith in my heart. True we do not have a piece in the liturgy where we offer up our good works but we do believe and teach that good works are an acceptable sacrifice and those good works are what are held up by Jesus at the last judgment in Matthew 25.

    Art Casci

    • says

      Well, the evangelist in me says that bringing in the people with whom you shared is an excellent idea! However, I know that is not what you are asking.

      During both the anaphoras of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil, the following prayer is spoken by the priest, “Be mindful, O Lord, of those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy Churches, and who remember the poor.” This prayer is prayed immediately after the consecration. This is very important because (along with others who are remembered), this is right after we have remembered the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, right after the words of institution.

      There are, of course, other places where we ask God to remember those who work with the poor. But, in one sense, rather than offering up their works, we offer them up to the Lord and ask him to remember them, a most important Biblical concept.

      There are other prayers, but this one

  2. Art Casci says

    Fr. Ernesto,

    One more thought or question…what about Romans 12:1-3 where our bodies are called living sacrifices offered to God? Do you have something in the Divine Liturgy for that? We have the Offertory which is the offering of ourselves to God as an acceptable sacrifice. So it seems there are three sacrifices: 1. praise 2. good works 3. our bodies

    Art Casci

Leave a Reply -- who knows what might happen?